EU plans for LEO constellation

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The European Union wants its own Low Earth orbiting mega-constellation of satellites for its citizens, and separate from the offerings from Elon Musk, OneWeb or Canada’s Lightspeed.

The EU invited a consortium of industry suppliers to come up with a fast-track LEO scheme and Dominic Hayes, spectrum manager for the EU’s space programme at the European Commission’s Defence Industry & Space, told a conference that the consortium and EU are just “weeks away” from establishing the proposed system’s key elements.

The consortium comprises Airbus, Arianespace, Eutelsat, Hispasat, OHB, Orange, SES, Telespazio and Thales Alenia Space. They are sharing a contract worth €7.1 million to come up with recommendations which include possible funding methods.

Hayes told delegates to Satellite 2021 EMEA’s virtual event that the study would include MEO and GEO elements. The MEO portion is likely to be represented by SES and its mPOWER fleet of Medium Earth orbiting satellites. The GEO elements could be provided by SES, Eutelsat or Hispasat.

“There are constellations out there now being developed, but they’re not European, and that does present potentially a challenge for European member states when we’re thinking about providing secure connectivity to places in Europe, but also outside Europe,” Hayes said.

“The key objectives are to make broadband available everywhere in the EU, places where it’s not feasible or economic to provide terrestrial coverage,” he told delegates, adding that there were still places in Europe that have next to zero connectivity. “We see a need for secure connectivity for government-type applications, be it networks, police, military, government users. There is a whole range of activities that need to be provided with secure, autonomous connectivity.”

However, questions remain: Key to some sort of EU-wide solution is global spectrum and operational frequencies and to what extent the final scheme might be a mix of private/public ownership and management.


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